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Drone Laws in New Mexico- Your Ultimate Guide (2023)

Updated in 2023 by Paul Posea
New Mexico

New Mexico stands out among states in the US for its progressive drone laws. In 2015, the state legislature passed a law making it legal to use drones for photography, as long as the operator does not invade someone's privacy. This makes New Mexico one of the most drone-friendly states in the country.

That said, regulators such as the Federal Aviation Authority(FAA) have strict guidelines that drone owners MUST adhere to if they want to operate drones safely and legally.

This post looks at drone laws in New Mexico that drone pilots need to consider before liftoff.

Can I Be Arrested for Flying a Drone in New Mexico?

Yes, you can be arrested for flying a drone in New Mexico. However, this will only happen if you’re caught disregarding state and federal laws about flying drones.

As long as you operate your drone within the set federal and state laws, you can fly your drone in New Mexico commercially or as a hobby without fear of arrest.

Fortunately, other than federal laws, which you have to observe while flying a drone in any US state, New Mexico’s drone flying laws are some of the least stringent.

Federal Drone Laws in New Mexico

Regardless of where you are in the US, federal laws will always trample local and state laws. So, even before looking at your state drone flying rules, you should be well aware of national guidelines to observe.

While most federal laws apply to both recreational and commercial drone pilots, there are specific requirements that only apply to one or the other, as we’ll see below.

Federal Drone Laws for Recreational Pilots

It’s critical that you first understand who is recognized as a recreational drone flyer. According to the FAA, a recreational drone pilot is one who’s only doing it for fun or personal enjoyment.

If you’re a recreational drone pilot, some of the laws you MUST adhere to include:

  • Taking and passing The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) administered by a test administrator approved by the FAA. The test is FREE, and you’ll receive your certificate immediately you complete it and as long as you pass the test.
  • You must fly for fun ONLY (side jobs and in-kind work count as commercial)
  • The drone you’re flying must be under 55 lbs. unless certified by a CBO
  • Only fly in Class G airspace (You’ll need to apply for airspace authorization if you want to fly in Classes B, C, D, or E)

Federal Drone Laws for Commercial Pilots

Commercial flights are more regulated than recreational flights. But before we get to the regulations, let’s first understand which flights are considered commercial.

The most obvious are flights meant to create products or collect data for paying clients. However, commercial doesn’t necessarily mean there’s monetary compensation involved.

For instance, drone flights for the following purposes are considered to be commercial flights:

  • Taking images of a property to market it for sale
  • Event pictures for an institution (such as high school football matches) that will be published for the benefit of the institution
  • Roof inspections
  • Goodwill projects such as surveying coastlines for a non-profit on a volunteer basis

With that in mind, here are the rules to observe if you’re a commercial drone flyer:

  • Must hold an FAA-issued commercial Remote Pilot Certificate
  • Only fly a UAV weighing, including payload, under 55 lbs. at takeoff
  • Must NOT fly from a moving vehicle unless you’re flying in a sparsely populated area

If you need any restrictions for commercial drone flight, other than the weight requirement, waived, you’ll need to submit and receive the FAA’s Part 107 waiver.

General Drone Flying Laws in New Mexico for All Drone Pilots

While some laws affect recreational and commercial drone flyers differently, most federal regulations are meant to be observed by all drone pilots, regardless of their reason to fly. These general laws include:

  • Registering your drone with the FAA. Once registered, you should display the registration number on the drone prominently. In New Mexico, you can register your drone here, which will cost you $5 for a 3-year license. New Mexico has different drone registration requirements for larger UASs
  • Fly at an altitude of or under 400 feet
  • Ensure your drone is always in sight whenever you’re flying
  • Refrain from flying your drone in restricted airspace
  • Refrain from flying near other aircraft, especially close to airports, as pilots can’t see drones clearly, which might cause a catastrophic collision
  • Avoid flying over groups of people, stadiums, or sporting events unless you have proper authorization
  • Don’t fly near emergency rescue efforts such as fire, accident, police chases, etc.
  • Don’t fly while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs
  • If you wish to fly at night, you MUST have special training and use special equipment

Flying drones over forests and wildlife are also regulated, as you can find in this publication by the US Forest Service under the United States Department of Agriculture.

State Drone Laws in New Mexico

The local drone laws in New Mexico are not as stringent as you’ll find in some other states. Still, there are some regulations you need to keep in mind when operating a drone in the state. Specifically, New Mexico has two main state laws for drone pilots to observe. The two are:

  • Observing New Mexico Unwanted Surveillance Act - The Senate Bill SB 556 of 2013 prohibits the use of drones by private or state entities for unauthorized surveillance. That means it’s illegal to surveil anyone in New Mexico without their express consent. The only exception is for state agencies whose mandate has been granted by a court through a warrant to gather evidence.
  • Use of drones to hunt - New Mexico has a law that prohibits the use of a drone to rally, harry, harass, drive, or pursue any protected species. Similarly, the state prohibits the use of drones in locating or assisting to locate protected species.

A special exception from the second law can be granted for those using drones for management purposes.

Other than these two, the other local jurisdictions in New Mexico are yet to establish their legislature on drone use.

Lastly, operating drones within National Parks in New Mexico is now prohibited as it is in the rest of the country.

What Happens If I Break Any Drone Law in New Mexico?

Flying a drone without a license or without registering it are both criminal offenses, each carrying a fine of up to $250,000 and three years of imprisonment. 

Flying over restricted airspace attracts a fine of up to $100,000 while surveilling individuals or institutions without their consent attracts a fine of $500 and 6 months or less of imprisonment.

These fines are different depending on the law you break and are subject to change.

Before flying a drone in New Mexico, it’s imperative that you first seek to understand every state guideline. That way, you’ll know where and when you can fly a drone and will be operating within the law without fear of arrest.

Hi, I'm Paul.
A big drone enthusiast, reviewing, comparing and writing about drones since 2015. I'm all about helping people enjoy and even monetize their hobby.

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paul posea
Paul Posea
Hi, I'm a long-time drone reviewer and I hope my articles and comparisons on this site as well as Dronesgator's youtube channel are of as much help as possible.
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